Chrysler expands Windsor plant, preps for 'future vehicle'

Expansion of Chrysler's Windsor Assembly Plant is underway in Windsor, Ont., and the company says on Facebook it's linked to the production of "a future vehicle."
Chrysler has started expanding and retooling its Windsor Assembly Plant in the southwestern Ontario city. (Fiat Chrysler/Facebook)

Expansion of Chrysler's Windsor Assembly Plant is underway in the southwestern Ontario city and it's linked to the production of "a future vehicle," the company says on Facebook.

The company said the expansion was "designed to get the plant ready" for the vehicle.

"And sorry, we can’t yet tell you what’ll [sic] be," the post reads, in part.

It's possible the "future vehicle" is simply the next generation of the company's minivan, but Chrysler is mum on the construction, facility upgrade and potential new products.

"We are limiting our comments to what was in the release," spokeswoman Jodi Tinson said in a one-sentence email to CBC News.

In a followup email, Tinson said Chrysler does not comment on future product.

However, some plant workers are already speculating on possibilities.

"All I know is that it's an SUV," said Wayne Verstick, a quality control leader with more than 30 years at the plant. "A tiny SUV. It could be the next Durango."

The company is spending close to $2 billion to retool, according to Unifor National president Jerry Dias.

'I think this is a great Christmas gift," said Unifor Local 444 president Dino Chiodo.

"I think there are obvious capabilities," added Chiodo, who would not confirm plans for a new SUV. "You don't want to spend that kind of money and go elsewhere."

The automaker started retooling and expanding its minivan facility on Boxing Day.

New line is ergonomic

The company is using a 545-tonne crane to install 200 pieces of structural steel to create a new conveyor enclosure on the plant’s roof.

The enclosure will house the plant’s new skillet line.

The skillet moves the vehicle along the assembly line, adjusting its height to the desired level for workers, improving vehicle quality with a better line of sight, Chrysler said in a statement.

The skillet also provides optimal ergonomic positioning, which allows workers to function in the "golden zone," a 60-degree window in front of the employee, ideal to present parts.

The conveyor enclosure and skillet line are among many improvements planned for the Windsor plant. Additional projects will be completed during 14 weeks of downtime beginning in February.

No government investment

A 545-tonne crane is working to lift more than 200 pieces of steel onto the roof of the Windsor Assembly Plant. (Fiat Chrysler/Facebook)

Earlier this year, Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne intimated upper levels of government had to come to the table with significant funding or risk losing Chrysler production in Ontario.

Chrysler stopped talking investment with the federal and provincial governments when the issue became, as he called it, "a political football."

Chrysler later confirmed the 2015 model year would be the end of the line for the Grand Caravan, but there was some relief when it committed to producing the new Town and Country minivan in Windsor.

Chrysler said in a media release in March that it would "fund out of its own resources whatever capital requirements the Canadian operations require."

'I think it went without saying that Marchionne was going to go at it alone," said Chiodo.

Chrysler announced in May it will stop producing Dodge Grand Caravans.

Instead, the company will continue to build only its luxury model minivan, the Chrysler Town and Country, at the Windsor Assembly Plant.

Built in 1928, the plant now occupies 4.4 million square feet of floor space, and has 4,600 employees across three shifts to produce the Dodge Grand Caravan, Chrysler Town & Country, Ram Cargo Van, and Lancia Grand Voyager.

Its signature minivans went into production in 1983.


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